|04-07-2003, 12:14 AM|
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Royals' Pena not interested in the past, just the present
A couple of pretty decent Royals managers -- Whitey Herzog and Dick Howser -- weren't able to do what Tony Pena has done in his first full season with the Royals.
That's get off to a 5-0 start.
Not bad for a manager fielding a team with the second-lowest payroll in baseball at barely more than $40 million.
But if you're looking for historical perspective, don't bother asking Pena.
"I don't even think about that," he said. "I focus everything on now."
And now is pretty sweet.
"We know it's only five games," Pena said, "but it's a pretty good feeling. I can tell because every player is getting here to the ballpark a little earlier each day.
"This is a hungry team, and they're enjoying themselves."
It's anyone's guess how Pena is pulling off this magic act, though when your starters have a 2.18 ERA, just about any manager can look like Houdini. (OK, maybe not Bob Boone.)
But as people around baseball start to scratch their heads when they look at the Royals' 5-0 start, they need to appreciate what Pena is attempting to build here.
"I don't know if there's any one thing I appreciate the most about Tony," catcher Brent Mayne said. "But everyone has the feeling that Tony wants the best for them. That may sound corny, but as a player, it matters. That's what builds chemistry."
Mayne also noted that Pena has another endearing quality to players: He refuses to panic.
"Look at today's game," Mayne said. "We leave a hundred guys on base, we get two guys thrown out at home, but we know Tony isn't going to panic. I know that rubs off on the players. We know we messed up, but we also know we're a pretty good base-running team. We just messed up.
"So we were kind of laughing about it in the dugout. Let's face it: Mistakes happen in baseball over 162 games. You put it behind you, and you move on."
There were mistakes made from sources other than the players, too, on Saturday.
Joe Brinkman's umpiring crew has had an especially tough time on calls at first base. Brinkman called Desi Relaford out at first Friday when replays clearly showed he was safe. The next batter, Angel Berroa, was clearly out and was ruled safe.
A similar makeup call was made Saturday by first-base umpire Derryl Cousins, who called Berroa out at first in the fourth inning when he easily beat the throw.
Cousins made up for it when he ruled Omar Vizquel out at first in the sixth inning after Vizquel pushed a bunt to the third-base side. Replays showed Vizquel safe by a healthy margin.
Former big-league umpire and Overland Park resident Steve Palermo is pleased with the pace of the Royals' games so far this season. But Palermo, who is Bud Selig's right-hand man when it comes to determining ways to speed up the game, still thinks there's room for improvement.
"The 2:05 game we had on opening day was close to perfect," Palermo said. "But we need more of those to make up for the longer ones that are inevitable.
"What I always say is, `Hey, these guys playing are all on salary. They're not being paid by the hour. Do your job as quickly as possible.' "
One small change that will pick up the pace is that base runners, as Michael Tucker found out recently, won't automatically get time called upon request to dust themselves off.
"They can dust themselves while standing on the base," Palermo said, "and the game can keep moving on."
Royals vice president of marketing Charlie Seraphin was walking through the crowd as the Royals were wrapping up their three-game sweep of Chicago on Thursday when a fan made an unusual observation.
"He wondered why we don't sell brooms in the gift shop so fans could signify the sweep," Seraphin said. "I thought, `Well, that's not something we've had to consider in recent memory.' But it's something I wouldn't mind considering a lot."